Over the last decade, a large corpus of photographic output by African photographers, has come also to Western public's attention and therefore contributed to greater awareness of twentieth-century African modernity. „They have established artistic initiatives that build their own critical operations outside the imagistic traditions of the West, and consequently have loosed upon the field of visual culture an immense process of reassessment of cultural practices often attributed only to Europe and North America“. (Lauri Firstenberg, 2001) Furthermore their conceptual modes of photographic production negotiates critically the hypersaturation of images of South Africa by documentary/photojournalistic tradition of apartheid and postapartheid.
This show by Zwelethu Mthethwa - for the second time at our gallery - presents the project MAIDENS, examining relationships and attitudes of young girls participating in the Reeds Dance, a Zulu Ritual popular known for testing girls' virginity.
"The importance of this ritual is more than just testing virginity, a complicated subject that cannot be simply reduced into a policing of women sexuality and bodies. In the course of the ritual, the girls are taught the importance of their femininity, bodies and sexualities, issues regarding health and cosmetics are among relative protocols to learn or unlearn their behaviours that enable them to partake in their family-households, communities and society at larger.
Importantly, the ritual brings together young girls from different (Zulu) households, clans and regions in South Africa. These girls meet as strangers and depart as friends, relatives, families and comrades. Some of them discover their distant relatives and family members; in this way, various forms of kinships, friendship and bonding are developed. They learn about themselves and each other, and thus establishing connecting histories and relationships socially, culturally, politically and sexually.
MAIDENS' focus is therefore on these (human) relationships. It visually explores certain moments and gestures that reflect how these young girls forge (old and new, including extended) family ties, friendships and comradeships. Of importance is how the girls occupy and negotiate a ritual site reserved for them, as such enabling their confidence about their (youthful) femininity and sexual identities for bonding, even outing.
Through a series of photographs taken at various angles and distances, framed as portraits in space, MAIDENS seeks to visually create a reflective space wherein the relationships between the girls could be viewed and understood. Underscoring MAIDENS is a visual negotiation of the important and complex relationships between the girls in particular how their postures exhibiting their state of self-consciousness and attitudes. MAIDENS thus contemplates associated affairs during a moment marking one of the many phases through which (Zulu) young girls are initiated in their long journey towards respectable, responsible and mature adults, perceived both as individuals and members of a community in society. Thembinkosi Goniwe, 2005
THE DANCE OF LIFE, a 4-minutes b/w film by Mthethwa shows a group of dancers who circularly and rhythmically disappear into the darkness and then appear into light again, accompanied by a drumbeat which is in fact a sound of the heartbeat. THE DANCE OF LIFE as a symbol of rebirth, reincarnation or resurrection? As a recall of Matisse' JOY OF LIFE?